Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel is requesting the use of a permanent base in the United States for training its fighter pilots, the Israeli and U.S. Defense Ministries have confirmed.
As part of a plan to improve Israel Air Force (IAF) pilot training levels and raise combat readiness, the Israeli ministry has asked permission to permanently base aircraft at a U.S. Air Force base by 2002, according to a report in the respected British-based Jane's Defense Weekly.
IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz was quoted as saying that, given approval, the Israeli pilots would be rotated to the U.S. for training missions, including combat maneuvers with the U.S. Air Force.
Cooperation between IAF and the USAF has increased over the past year, Halutz said, noting that in March and April, IAF fighters participated in the USAF's yearly "Red Flag" air combat maneuvers in Nevada for the first time in several years.
It has long been a source of exasperation - and black humor - that Israeli fighter planes can barely reach maximum speed before they risk overshooting the tiny country's borders into often-hostile neighboring territory.
Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror said that Israel's primary training difficulty was the country's size.
"This is part of the problem we have, we don't have enough space for pilots for training," Dror said by telephone. "We have to look for other places for training."
A secondary benefit of training elsewhere is the experience pilots gain by learning to work in coordination with other forces, Dror said.
And just as Israeli pilots can learn from American pilots so the opposite is true, he argued.
"It only helps to raise the capability scale of the pilots," he said.
Although Israeli pilots have trained in the U.S. periodically in the past, the U.S. Department of Defense has not made a final decision yet on whether to allow the Israeli planes to be permanently deployed at a USAF base.
"The Israeli Ministry of Defense has requested that Department of Defense consider the feasibility and potential cost of allowing the IAF to station a detachment of fighter aircraft at a USAF base in the United States," a Pentagon spokesman said in a written response to a query.
"Israel's objective is to provide training opportunities that are not available in Israel and increase opportunities for joint training with the US Air Force," he said, adding that the request was being reviewed by policy staff at the Defense Secretary's office.
Quoting senior IAF officers, Jane's said the IAF has invested more than $50 million to improve the combat readiness of its jets and consequently the air force is "on a higher level of combat readiness than at any time during the last decade."